Born 134 years ago on October 19, 1879, Emma Bell Miles was one of Southern Appalachia’s earliest naturalists. Also an artist, poet, and writer, Emma Bell Miles lived on Walden’s Ridge, near today’s town of Signal Mountain, for most of her adult life. Although her husband, Frank Miles, was a hard worker, he had trouble finding paying work on Walden’s Ridge, so the task of earning money fell on Emma who sold artwork, short stories, and poems to raise the money for food, clothing, and health care for her family. She was educated, and formally trained as an artist. She was also a talented writer.
In 1905 she published her book-length work, The Spirit of the Mountains, which detailed the customs and lives of mountain folk in the Southern Appalachian region. She was a prolific poet and artist, and sold her artwork, both small and large pieces, as fast as she could produce them.
She published nearly twenty short stories and numerous poems in national magazines and newspapers between 1904-1919. She worked briefly as a columnist with the Chattanooga News in 1914, providing nature essays in a column she titled “Fountain Square Conversations.” She also self-published that year a pamphlet of her poems, titled “Chords from a Dulcimore.” Each cover had an original illustration by Miles and in select copies she provided original illustrations.
In 1915 she contracted tuberculosis and spent several years in and out of the Pine Breeze Sanitarium in North Chattanooga. She died in 1919 from the disease, not yet forty years old. Shortly before she died, she published her last work, a nature book titled Our Southern Birds, in which she drew illustrations of the birds.
The Life and Works of Emma Bell Miles. Special Collections & University Archives, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Jean Miles Catino papers. Special Collections & University Archives, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Kay Baker Gaston papers. Special Collections & University Archives, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.